The UNIVERSAL project’s potential impact on the health of children living with HIV, told by Dr Vivian Mumbiro

20 Dec, 2023

In recent years, advancements in medical research have paved the way for an array of treatment options for children living with HIV. The efforts of scientists and researchers globally, have led to continuous refinement and improvement of existing regimens. Dr. Vivian Mumbiro, affectionately known as Dr V, a dedicated Medical Officer at the University of Zimbabwe Clinical Research Centre, shares insights into the evolving landscape of paediatric HIV treatment.

Working within the field of paediatric HIV presents a unique set of challenges and triumphs. Dr. V highlights the emotional rollercoaster, from witnessing the repercussions of parental non-adherence to medication resulting in HIV transmission, to the joy of seeing thriving patients who grow up to be healthy adults. Despite the challenges, caregivers play a pivotal role in determining the child’s health outcomes, as the child’s well-being is entirely dependent on consistent and proper administration of treatment.

“Working in the field of paediatric HIV, you experience a mix of emotions. On one hand, it can be sad because you will see that HIV in children can be a result of parents not adhering to their medication and in instances where their children are on treatment that is failing, it again could be because the caregivers are not giving medication well. It is very rewarding though, when the children get virally suppressed with good adherence and effective medication.” states Dr V.

The burden on caregivers, who may struggle with daily medication routines and face external challenges such as stigma, discrimination, and socio-economic hardships are major obstacles. To address these issues, the UNIVERSAL project is developing drug formulations designed to simplify treatment administration and improve adherence. UNIVERSAL introduces fixed-dose combinations of three drugs in a single tablet, administered once a day. This will significantly reduces the complexity of medication schedules for caregivers and children, who often juggle multiple doses throughout the day. The ease of a once-daily regimen is particularly beneficial for parents with busy schedules or those who entrust the child’s care to others, ensuring consistent medication intake even in the absence of direct parental supervision.

Dr V states that “the thing about treating HIV in children is that the health of the child depends entirely on their parents and carers, so if they are unable to administer the treatment correctly and consistently to the child, it puts the child’s well-being at severe risk. There are many examples of parents who have to leave their homes very early in the morning to work and often leave their children under the care of someone else. If the parents have not disclosed the child’s HIV status to the caregiver, that child most likely will not be given medication.”

The UNIVERSAL project’s innovative drug formulations marks a significant leap forward in paediatric HIV treatment. By enhancing adherence through a simplified once-daily regimen, this development not only improves the overall health of children living with HIV but also contributes to reducing opportunistic infections and promoting overall well-being.